Malaysian PM declares 'total lockdown'
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Malaysian PM declares 'total lockdown'

Two-week nationwide shutdown from Tuesday a desperate bid to get Covid under control

A boy and his father wait for tests at a free coronavirus testing site in Shah Alam, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, on Thursday. (Reuters Photo)
A boy and his father wait for tests at a free coronavirus testing site in Shah Alam, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, on Thursday. (Reuters Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has announced a nationwide “total lockdown” starting on Tuesday as coronavirus infections in the country surged to record levels.

Muhyiddin said the stricter lockdown from June 1 to 14 was for all social and economic sectors, and that only essential services would remain in operation.

The government will soon announce an aid package to companies and people affected by the new restrictions, according to the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The spread of Covid-19 in the country in recent weeks has been more severe, partly due to highly transmissible coronavirus variants. Hospitals are also strained.

“With the latest rise in daily cases showing a drastically upward trend, hospital capacity across the country to treat Covid-19 patients are becoming limited,” Muhyiddin said in a statement on Friday.

“The government will ensure the public healthcare system will not collapse and a variety of support and help will be given to the Health Ministry to increase the capacity of hospitals nationwide,” the PMO statement said.

“The government will also increase vaccinations in the coming weeks in efforts to create herd immunity.”

Malaysia reported 8,290 new coronavirus cases on Friday, its fourth straight day of record infections, bringing the total number of cases to 549,514 since the pandemic began.

It also reported 61 deaths. The number of daily fatalities have been rising, with a record daily toll of 63 earlier this week.

Malaysia has started its inoculation drive, though critics say the rollout has been slow. About 2.7 million people — 8.4% of the population of 32 million — have received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Thursday.

If the country can reduce the number of cases in the first two weeks of the lockdown, the government will allow some sectors to reopen slowly over the course of next four weeks - after which all economic sectors would be allowed to operate, the prime minister said.

Malaysia has already disbursed over 300 billion ringgit ($72.6 billion) of stimulus funds since last year to cushion the impact of the pandemic.

The country also remains under a state of emergency imposed in January to curb the spread of the virus. The order includes a suspension of parliament and has essentially put an end to political activities amid a power struggle.

The economy was on the path to recovery in the first quarter before infections began to spike. GDP contracted 5.6% in 2020, the worst annual performance since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. 

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